May students be disciplined for what they say on social media?

A Pennsylvania school district has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether students may be disciplined for what they say on social media, New York Times has reported.

The Supreme Court next month will consider whether to hear the case of Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., involving a student’s freedom of speech while off school grounds.

It was a Saturday in the spring of 2017, and a ninth-grade student in Pennsylvania was having a bad day. She had just learned that she had failed to make the varsity cheerleading squad and would remain on junior varsity.

The student expressed her frustration on social media, sending a message on Snapchat to about 250 friends. The message included an image of the student and a friend with their middle fingers raised, along with text expressing a similar sentiment. Using a curse word four times, the student expressed her dissatisfaction with “school,” “softball,” “cheer” and “everything.”

Though Snapchat messages are ephemeral by design, another student took a screenshot of this one and showed it to her mother, a coach. The school suspended the student from cheerleading for a year, saying the punishment was needed to “avoid chaos” and maintain a “teamlike environment.”

The student sued the school district, winning a sweeping victory in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. The court said the First Amendment did not allow public schools to punish students for speech outside school grounds.

I think that is right. Students shouldn’t be influenced by school rules, outside of school. I remember few years ago a student was suspended because he had a confederate flag on his car and many black students complained about it.

I supported that suspension as schools should have rules to protect other students, such as being physically and mentally abused. However, in this case, this is happening outside of school and she should be free to express her opinions whether school officials like it or not, without fear of anything happening to her.

I understand that her post (on Snapchat) was about a matter happened in school but the post wasn’t breaking any law or harming any student. If she threatened any student or coach (or official), then it would be OK to take action against her but we can’t see such thing so far.

I believe students, and other people related to school should be able to freely express their opinions or emotions about any matter whether in school or not without fear of anything happening to them, as long as they don’t harm anyone.

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Ali Reza Hayati

Entrepreneur, hacker, cypherpunk.